Air quality reached 'hazardous' levels this week as smoke from three major blazes hung heavily over Goulburn and region.
The 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) in Goulburn itself was 480 on Monday, according to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
An AQI of 200 or more is considered hazardous, meaning people with sensitive breathing should avoid all outdoor activities and everyone should reduce outdoor physical exposure.
The readings emerged from the Department's new air quality monitoring station at Leggett Park, off McDermott Drive.
It went 'live' on Monday, delivering hourly recordings of two types of particulate matter - PM2.5 and PM10 - and the air quality index. The launch followed negotiations with the council to lease a small section for the compound.
The Department's Climate and Atmospheric Science director, Matthew Riley said the $300,000 station was part of the State's $8.5 million investment in air quality monitors.
Monitors were also installed in Orange earlier this year and Armidale in 2018. They're aimed at improving air quality and achieving the State's climate change targets of net-zero emissions over 10 years.
"At local scales, we know that wood smoke can be a problem in regional cities in winter," Mr Riley said in a statement.
"With the current drought, we're also seeing a higher level of dust. This station will provide the people of Goulburn with easily-accessible data on pollution levels, and will guide decision makers on ways to reduce air pollution and improve public health for the community."
The air quality index measures air pollutants, and standardises ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, airborne particles and visibility.
The pollution data can be accessed here.
The station will also provide temperature, humidity, rainfall and wind data. Mayor Bob Kirk previously expressed concern that airport temperature recordings did not reflect those in Goulburn city and called for a central weather station.
But smoke and air pollution is on most people's minds this week.
On Monday, Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Shuang Wang said northeasterly wind was blowing smoke over the region from the Green Wattle Creek fire in the Wollondilly Shire, which had burnt almost 110,000 hectares, and the Ruined Castle blaze which has ripped through 2000 hectares in the Blue Mountains.
Visibility at Goulburn Airport was 4000 to 5000 metres.
RFS Southern Tablelands operations manager Lachlan Gilchrist said slight easterly gusts were also bringing smoke from the North Black Range Fire west of Braidwood, which has burnt almost 36,000ha, and the Currowen blaze in the Shoalhaven (80,000ha plus).
"The wind aspect means we'll cop it until at least Thursday," he said.
"We are hoping for a stronger, cooler front from Thursday to provide some much welcome relief."
The Department recorded a top AQI of 532 in Goulburn between 7am and 8am Monday. This compared with the daily peaks of 1056 for Armidale and 987 in Orange, which were both inundated by bushfire smoke.
Across the day in Goulburn, particulate matter 10 (PM10), or those particulates 10 micrometers in diameter or less, averaged 492, also considered 'hazardous.'
PM2.5, or pollution particles 2.5 micrometers or less, averaged 287, again in the hazardous category.
Resident Lindsay Allen measured air pollutants at his west Goulburn home at 7.15am Monday.
Using his newly purchased monitor from the US, he said he recorded PM 10 at 914.4 and PM 2.5 at 481.2. The readings are well above the air quality monitoring station's data at this time. A department spokesman said it went to great lengths to ensure its equipment was correctly calibrated.
Whereas larger particles can be trapped in the nose, mouth or throat, the PM 2.5 particles can be drawn deep into the lungs, the Federal Department of Energy and Environment advises.
Mr Allen, who has had a triple bypass, said he bought his own machine because he was concerned about air quality on Sydney underground trains when he travelled.
"I stayed indoors over the weekend but today (Monday) I've had to go out and the smoke has irritated my eyes. My breathing is okay," he said.
A Southern NSW Local Health District spokesman said there hadn't been a spike in smoke-related or respiratory conditions in the past week, against the last 30 days, at Goulburn, Yass, Crookwell or Braidwood hospitals.
However NSW Health has experienced an upsurge in presentations in the State's hospitals and calls to NSW Ambulance related to asthma and breathing problems over the past three weeks.
A spokesperson said over the last week, there have been about 1,140 presentations, about 25 per cent more than the usual weekly average of around 900. The largest increases have been in South Western Sydney Local Health District, which serves the region particularly affected by smoke over the last week.
NSW Ambulance has fielded some 2,330 calls in the same period, around 30 per cent more than the average for the week of 1,780.
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"These numbers show the smoke continues to have an impact on people's health and reinforces the need for people to take steps to reduce their exposure," NSW Health Director of Environmental Health, Dr Richard Broome said.
For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat. However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms.
"NSW Health continues to recommend that people with these conditions should avoid outdoor physical activity when there's smoke around," Dr Broome said.
Dr Broome said, with more people starting to wear a variety of face-masks, it was important to consider the evidence.
"The main concern with smoke is the very fine PM2.5 particles, which are so small they pass through most types of mask. A P2 mask does filter out these particles, but is only effective if there is a good fit and an air-tight seal around the mouth and nose. Evidence shows that this is difficult to achieve in practice, so they may not provide the benefit people are hoping for," he said.
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